Thursday, March 1, 2012

Encoded Heart

This was hard to do but the hardest part was naming the song.
I wrote the guitar part and melody simultaneously and then had to figure out what on earth it was - rhythmically. It's in some triple meter, with strange elisions in it. It's one of those things I can play but probably no one else would be able to.
Strange as it is rhythmically the tricky bit was completing the lyrics. A love song not drawn from any specific experience...I've never done that, not that I can recall.
I was working on this one a day or two ago when I stopped and wrote "Drop" instead. Following this line of thinking I should Roll next.
It may be the only time I've recorded a tambourine, at least in the past 25 years.

As the 2012 song a day project comes to a close, I'm satisfied with the results. I gave myself a few rules this year.
- no comedy/novelty songs.
- no improvisations, instrumentals, or 'compositions'. For me at least there are other places to explore these realms
- try to write songs I would actually use in some other context - e.g. perform
- try new things
- be ridiculously fearless with words
The last one was the hardest. Whether I write music that makes any sense at all to someone else is a question I stopped worrying about from the beginning. If it was logical in my own head then it passed the test.
Lyrically it's another matter. I have no idea how anything comes across, and words are a whole lot more personal than musical notes. Nevertheless I overrode the tendency to complete embarrassment and did the fearless thing. Looking back I only wince at the technical missteps, like the forlorn "should" in this song. (Plus I once made a vow to never use the word "should". Dang.) As for content, I'll stand by it.

Virtual Reality

Disaster struck, in the form of a software crash, causing two hours of cutting and pasting and vocal tracking to vanish.
Not quite, as it turned out. The vocal tracks were still there, as they are saved as .aiff files when recorded, so all I needed to do was drag them back into their respective tracks, identify them, and put them in the proper place. Following a reconstruction of the song, of course. The midi tracks were from many days ago, and were intended to be the germ of real instrumental parts, but time was a factor and I wanted to complete this song. So midi guitars it was.
I do wonder if anyone uses the term "Virtual Reality" anymore. It seems antiquated. Oh well. As a metaphor for the way we reshape our realities and more specifically our past realities I liked it.
The end of this song, where the system breaks down and the goggles melt, made me think of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, visually if not musically. Musically I didn't have any particular artist in mind with this tune. Technology as a metaphor for human relationships - something that recurs this year and I'm not quite sure why.
It does remind me that in preparing for song a day this year I rapped. A lot. I learned very quickly that I can't rap, under any circumstances, but the practice of keeping word flow going and varying rhyme schemes was useful. Every now and then something good would happen, an optimistic 5% of the time I'd day. If only I had been able to remember and replicate those moments, and, say, write them down.

I consider this song unfinished. I had much bigger plans for it, even some chord variation. It will be the first song I rework now that February is over.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Backside Disaster

Sounds like a bad thing, but a Backside Disaster is a skateboarding lip trick. Wish I could do one.
Here, watch Steve Caballero do one:
There's a band called Backside Disaster, which makes sense.
The vocal was recorded into the built-in mic on the computer, but I couldn't really improve on it, so there it remains.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The song whose name might change. Naming songs is difficult.
I don't know what to think about this one. At times I think it sounds like I'm attempting - and failing - to write a Cole Porter song.
I wrote this late in the evening while taking a break from another tune, not uploaded yet, which was also written taking a break from another song not yet uploaded. Good grief.
In typically knuckleheaded fashion I put this together by first playing an organ part which seemed satisfactory, then working backward to force some chordal overlay over what I'd done. This enabled me to lay down a guitar track and even a bass line.
This is sort of an anti-love song and as such was an exercise, a character sketch - and definitely a needed break from what I was working on. I'm assuming that tonight I'll finish that: it's very close but it is a proper love song with a minimum of convolutions so if I can buckle down and write a few simple couplets I think I'll be there.

Cover Time! Divine Love

I liked Lynda Arnold's song from the moment I heard it. The hymn-like simplicity of it, the brightness of the voices and the piano. I think it was always in the back of my mind that if the Song a Day crowd ever decided to do covers this would be my top choice.
I chose "Pants" as my first cover because I wasn't sure how to approach "Divine Love" for a long time. It wouldn't do to completely reimagine it in some odd style. That might verge on irony and I'm not into irony.
Eventually I just heard myself singing it: I was probably half-awake or something of the sort.
The main instrument is a tremolo-heavy Rhodes. I was dismayed to find it disappeared when heard on some systems.
On the other hand I was pleased that in spite of low vocals and dark instruments the final mix didn't seem too muddy.
It's a beautiful song and again I was pleased to find the composer had liked the results.

Cover time! Pants

This was fun. I took Tom Lattanand's song "Pants" and converted it to my own uses. His version is fully electronic, with beat, synth bass, some synth lines and a choir section toward the end.
I set about to rip it apart and reassemble it. First I managed to approximate the bass line on my own keyboard. At this point the inspiration - if you would call it that - to speed it up and turn it into the lo-fi punk thing it became, hit. I stripped the bassline down to a more basic level, cobbled together a bunch of drum loops, and off I went. The most enjoyable part for me was taking Tom's detuned synth lines and playing them on guitar. It's possible I replicated the harmonies he used, but at a certain point in the process I stop thinking about little details like that.
I was happy about the way it was sounding. It came time to put the bridge section in, and another 'inspiration' hit - to transpose my own voice up an octave as a replacement for the choral samples. It came out very strange, particularly because my vocal takes were really gravelly. And by 'strange' I decided I meant 'good'.
I love the word rhythm to this song, and it was a pleasure to record the vocal. I have yet to come upon a truly satisfactory recording technique for my voice, what with being lazy and all, but since this track was absurdly lo-fi I could be content with the result.
I was pleased that Tom enjoyed it. I realized doing covers of Song a Day tunes was a wonderful exercise, as it enabled the discovery of some core to the song that the composer might not have even noticed yet. A perfect example of this is Daniel Berkman's cover of Derek Greenberg's "Naked and Scared"
which in the words of one comment was even 'nakeder' than Derek's original, and really laid out in beautiful, clear detail the purity of the song. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Work to do

This is an Orwellian take on a world without grace: both in the attitude of the narrator and in the world described. I wrote these word a few months ago, very quickly, and decided to use them without alteration.
The chaotic nature of the recording is due to layering parts with triplets and parts with duplets, and recording three vocal tracks more or less on the fly, paying little attention to the harmony they were creating.
I have trouble actually hearing harmony, so whenever I can do parts that have some shape on their own and some relation to the chords, that's fine by me. This kind of thing was going on among the more interesting composers of the Renaissance such as Gesualdo and Zarlino. That style died out in the late Renaissance and other more boring styles developed into the early Baroque, which is a shame.
This isn't to say I am influenced by Renaissance music. That would be a stretch.
This song is influenced, unconsciously till it was finished, by a video my daughter's class made. You can watch it here:
I thought the chanted words made that whole video a little bit ominous and, well, Orwellian. Funny, but ominous. You know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

No Idea

I did ask a bartender for a song title idea, and he did think about it for a moment and reply, shaking his head "No idea." Very well, I could do that.
As always this song ended up with a different tone than I'd planned. The protagonist is completely clueless and hapless in the final version. Working on it my concept was much more straightforward: the comedic turn it took doesn't fully satisfy me.
One take, one mic. Not much to say there. Except for the stray F chord in the opening bit there are three chords. I'm sure I'm doing something strange with the vocal rhythms but this is my attempt at basic, no-frills songwriting.

Crawling up a pane of glass

I wrote a bass line, which was appealing. I played it for a while, then I decided I had better input it via MIDI so I could see what the time signature was. It turned out to be 4 bars of 7/8 and one of 6/8.
No, I declared, I'm not going to follow through with this. Instead I simplified the line so it would work in 4/4, then simplified again, and again, so it  ended up a basic one-note-per-measure line.
Since I had strayed so far from the original concept I decided to let this track be a 'tester' for a song I had planned for later called "Virtual Reality".
Eight hours later I had a dozen vocal tracks, layers of instrumental parts, and a puzzle that needed to be put together. Nothing ever ends up what it's supposed to be.
What's going on with the tracks: one looped drum tracked (comes in around the third bar or so - lots of high hat), one programmed drum track, bass line played on keyboard, arpeggiated highly effected guitar line, distorted guitar track, piano track. Oh, and a synth pad that makes an appearance now and then.
Lyrically this is pretty straightforward, a song about communication, and more specifically about that helpless feeling you get when someone brings up something they claim you said a long time ago. "It doesn't sound like me, but even if I did I take it back now." What else can you do?
It is purely coincidental that this song mentions a snail and earlier I wrote a song called slug. Go back to 2008 and you can find mention of nudibranchs in "Neutrally Buoyant". Maybe I do have an obsession with gastropods.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Very Funny, Elizabeth

Before Song-a-Day began I knew I was going to write a song with this title, which I borrowed from a book about the American Girl doll. The three words have a melodic quality to them already, imbued with a natural rhythm. It seemed like a good place to start.
The story of an Elizabeth who is a self-justified gold digger, well, I have my reasons but it's nothing to do with anyone in my life.
I'm not sure what genre the song ended up inhabiting. It started out as a soul/r&b tinged tune, but by the time I layered some instruments it had strayed a little.

I suppose this song is really a duet. The verses are sung by "Elizabeth" and the choruses by her hapless victim. The vocals were difficult, especially late at night when it's necessary to sing quietly.

The lyrics jump around a lot, but there is a narrative to the song.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


"Yes, I'm objectifying you right now. You're welcome."
I can't help but turn things upside down. The objectification of women; sure that's a not at all good thing when done indiscriminately, but I want to offer it up as a compliment.
What might seem at first listen to be a parody is in fact a fair example of writing what I'm feeling. Lacking in subtlety, explicit. I'll put that out there unapologetically. Don't we all want to feel that way?

I struggled putting this one up, as it's nothing like what I want it to be. My inspiration was the densely-layered work of P-Funk, and I despaired that I was completely incapable of laying down funky keyboard tracks - and also that I was still stuck with a guitar loop! Recording funky guitar parts, at night, to a click track, is well-nigh impossible. This is probably an indication that I won't be getting into session work anytime soon.
By the time I had laid down the vocal tracks I had rewritten the lyrics and improved the melodies and rhythms.
I wanted the song to be much, much, longer. It needed extended solo breaks and spoken passages.

It was late. But the premise of song-a-day is to put up fragments, works-in-progress, songs in any condition. So I bit the bullet and did it.

What they say

Broke my own rule and posted a joke. My excuse: I was too tired and strapped for time to assemble a proper song but wanted to contribute. Oh well.


Astoundingly the presets in Logic worked pretty well - I went direct with electric guitar for this one. This was a recording that did precisely what I wanted to, and that is always a happy time.
In spite of the chaotic sound of this song it's pretty sparse: drum track, bass, and three guitar tracks of which only two are playing at any time. One fx track for good measure.
I had all the instrumental tracks done and needed lyrics. It turned out the Arson lyrics fit the structure perfectly, so I went with them, making only a few slight changes from their original form in 2008.
Vocals were recorded late at night - of course - with Penelope sleeping a few doors down. Amazingly I never woke her. I recorded two falsetto tracks on the chorus - no easy feat - but as it got later I realized I could probably do a take with full voice, so I did. Not bad for having a cold. I don't think I have ever recorded my voice singing so high.

What's this song about? My original intent was to rant about huge retail chains and malls. I'll only admit this once, but I do not support arson as a means to any end. Maybe I'm using arson as a metaphor for 'any action whatsoever'.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nothing's Going to Change

Borrowed a technique from a favorite songwriter and took several different views of one phrase.
Melody-writing usually becomes a math problem when I do it. In this song I 'heard' most of it in my head, not the way SOME people do, but overall shapes and progressions. It's actually kind of weird that I don't conceive of melody in a specific way, but in an abstract geometric or even architectural way.
What that means is the process for actually completing the melody, fitting it to the chordal structure, becomes overly complicated.
I have many handicaps when it comes to melodic writing. I don't actually hear 'dissonance'. I could happily sing E-flats and Fs over a D major chord without batting an eye. I'm sure I have done that at some point.
In order to make sense in a traditional fashion I have to painstakingly go over every line and identify the notes I've chosen and quite deliberately move them around.
That of course takes patience, discipline, and attention to detail. And I totally had all of those ready but I must have left them on the bus or something, because I can't find them anywhere now.

I like this song. I threw a few string and organ part on it while I was putting it together and would have loved to include them but I didn't want the exact same lines coming up every single verse and chorus. Maybe someday I'll turn it into a finished recording. In the spirit of the project I throw it out there in its raw form.

Friday, February 3, 2012


In the spirit of song-a-day, I let a lot of things stand as they were, notably some lyric lines that are little more than filler. Bleah. It wasn't fun singing the end of the chorus.
This song was a clear attempt at achieving a certain sound. I do wonder what impression it leaves on the listener.
Lyrically it came across a lot more mean-spirited than I had intended. I wasn't trying to write an angry song, more one of wry amusement at this creature that couldn't harm me now matter how creepy and panic-inspiring it might be. You know how people overreact to little creatures like slugs and bugs and such? I was trying to play off that. I liked it as a metaphor.
For the soap-opera-oriented, this song isn't about anything personal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Blissful Denial

A song on the first day of the month.
I am acting on a challenge from Derek to record songs with the sole instrumentation being one electric guitar track. I am also working with some new influences, which I won't reveal yet. It is a strange process for me to imagine myself writing in the style of something or other - because I feel compelled to NOT listen to whatever I'm emulating, so I don't copy. The end product goes through some bizarre filtration indeed.
I can't imagine anyone having worse songwriting disciplines than I do. Many times I will start out writing/recording one thing and it will end up as something else entirely. Now and then I'll pull up some old files and listen to discarded vocal, or even instrumental, tracks, and remember the completely different direction I had set out.
The technical details of this track: Driskill #61 through Roland micro-amp, or whatever it's called. It's tiny and awful but the only amp within reach at the moment. Guitar and vocals miced with Sennheiser e609.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's time for song a day!

It is January 30, 2012. In two days it will be February 1. Thus begins song a day.
I do not know if I am ready.